River Wanderings

A few floats on the river inspired a pair of paintings. These are small watercolors that capture the peaceful feeling of being on the water in the heat of summer.

July on South Fork, Shenandoah River, watercolor by Kelli Hertzler
July on South Fork, Shenandoah River
14″ x 16″ framed watercolor.

July on South Fork, Shenandoah River was awarded a prize in the Shenandoah Valley Watercolor Society 36th Annual Members’ Show at VMRC’s Park Gables Gallery. The show will be up through November 4, 2022 . The judge, Susan Rosen, had this to say about the piece: “Really good design leads the viewer way down this creek and then back around again to see the rocky detail in the foreground. Good use of the medium and value contrast. I can feel what it would be like to wade in this cold creek!” Her comment is so appropriate because when I took the reference photos for this painting, I was standing in the water enjoying its coolness on a hot day. Then I just sat right down in the flowing water.

My husband likes to fish the river so I got some nice photos of him to work from. This is a beautiful spot on the river (actually the same area as the painting above) – the kind of place I could revisit over and over again and find a new painting each time. The river drops a bit but the fall line is at an angle to the route of the river so it make several interesting spill areas and lots of little islands. Water level fluctuations dramatically change the scenery. This is a Promising Location because fish often feed at the bottom of a rapid.

Promising Location, watercolor by Kelli Hertzler
Promising Location
12″ x 20″ framed watercolor.

Now Showing: More Colors of the Blue Ridge

The Wilson Downtown Gallery in Harrisonburg, Virginia is currently hosting an exhibit of my paintings. This gallery participates in First Fridays and will have an Artist’s Reception on March 6 from 5 – 8 pm.  The show will stay up until the end of March. Located within Harrisonburg Homes just south of the square, the gallery (and realtors who make it possible) welcome viewers during regular business hours as well. See the website or Facebook event for more information on the location.

Title image for 2020 Exhibit by Kelli Hertzler. All rights reserved.
This montage was created by splicing four paintings together. I’ve been painting the same view of Shenandoah National Park as seen from my home in many seasons, weather and lighting situations.

Two new additions to the Colors of the Blue Ridge series are on the walls there, along with fourteen other pieces celebrating the natural landscape in the Shenandoah region.  (I’ve been working on this series for over a year now. Catch up with my previous posts: Colors of the Blue Ridge and Many Moods of the Mountains.) I will have notecards available featuring many of these scenes at the reception, as well as fine art prints of select paintings.

First Light on New Snow, 18
First Light on New Snow
18″ x 12″ framed watercolor.
Available. All rights reserved, Kelli Hertzler.

Last Light. 18" x 12" framed watercolor. Available. All rights reserved, Kelli Hertzler.
Last Light
18″ x 12″ framed watercolor.
Available. All rights reserved, Kelli Hertzler.

One more first for this show: I included three plein aire oil painting studies.  These were painted in 2018 and 2019. Because oil paintings need to cure for 6-12 months before being varnished, this is the first time I have displayed them.

At the February reception, I was thrilled to talk with friends, family and lots of local art lovers. I’d love to see you there on March 6!

Many Moods of the Mountains

It still takes my breath away. For more than twenty years, I have had the pleasure of living in view of the Shenandoah National Park. The peaks and ridges dominate my view to the southeast.

Collection of mountain studies by artist Kelli Hertzler. All rights reserved.
Collection of mountain studies.

The Blue Ridge is the name of this chain mountains that stretch northeast to southwest through the length of Virginia. Granted, blue is the color it appears most often. But I have seen those mountains be every color of the rainbow and then some. Verdant green on rare summer days when the humidity drops. Chartreuse creeping up from the foothills in the spring. Subtle red, blazing orange and even golden in the setting sun of autumn. Shades of magenta when the summer sunrise sideswipes it from the east. Violet as the morning sun comes up from behind in the colder months.  Brown and grey in the doldrums of winter, or suddenly snow-covered in dazzling white with every tree defined in wet black.  And blue. Deep cobalt in the heat of summer when the air is thick – deepest in the hollows. Dark, brooding blue as the heavy thunderclouds dump untold tons of rain onto her slopes. Thin periwinkle blue fading more with each distant ridge into the sky on a cold, overcast day.  Royal blue, watery blue, steel blue.

Golden Glow, watercolor by Kelli Hertzler. All rights reserved. #colorsoftheblueridge
Evening sun hitting the blue ridge in the peak of autumn colors gives off a golden glow.

The light can flatten or sculpt the hills. Back-lighting in the early morning or scant light on a overcast day creates the illusion that the hills are cut out of paper or air-brushed onto a wall. But their volume is revealed in strong evening sunlight. Shadows offer contrast in value and color. Orange on the light side, purple on the dark. Or green on the light side, blue on the dark.

Photo of cumulonimbus above the park.

Weather patterns add another dimension. Small, puffy clouds can leave a mottled shadow pattern on the undulating surface.  We might have clear skies above our valley, but on the other side of the park a storm rages with thunderheads dwarfing the tallest peaks. Fog can blanket the base or clouds might obscure the peaks. Sometimes a low blanket of clouds rolls over the whole range, creeping over the ridges and sinking into the lowest parts.

Photo of misty clouds obscuring the park.

It goes on and on like this. My twenty years of observation are a drop in the bucket to the millennia that God has been creating new works of art here on a constant basis. The ever changing kaleidoscope defies any one description. Thus, a series of paintings to explore the many moods of the mountains.

When the Morning Falls, watercolor by Kelli Hertzler. All rights reserved. #colorsoftheblueridge
In winter, the sun comes up behind the mountains. Spectacular sunrises happen frequently.


The view I have is directly into Big Run Portal and just to the south, Madison Run.  Rocky Mount, Rocky Mountain, Rocky Top, Brown Mountain, Austin Mountain, Furnace Mountain and Treyfoot Mountain are a few that can be seen frequently in this series. I’ve hiked in these areas, but it is still hard to identify the peaks without a topo map. And some days I am sure a new hill has sprouted up that I’ve never noticed before.

Follow me on Facebook to keep up with the latest #colorsoftheblueridge.

Magnolia in Watercolor

My husband planted a Southern Magnolia in our yard several years ago. This summer, it became mature enough to give us dozens of blooms though it is only about eight feet tall. The flowers take turns in the spotlight and have kept the show going for months, rather than all bursting into flower at once. This seems like a rather southern trait to me: graciously taking their time as if speaking with a slow, southern draw.

Southern Magnolias: Queen and Debutante, watercolor by Kelli Hertzler, all rights reserved.
Southern Magnolias: Queen and Debutante
16″ x 20″ matted watercolor.
(mat opening is 11″ x 14″)

The petals begged to be painted in glowing watercolor, although I did use a lesson learned from my oil painting here.  I have been toning my oil canvases with yellow ocher and burnt sienna before starting a new composition. For this watercolor, I toned the entire sheet – the white areas of the two blooms excepted – with the several of the pigments I would use on the foreground. It immediately created a warm, comfortable atmosphere and subdued the background to allow the whites to sing the high notes.

<u>Southern Magnolia: Queen and Debutante</u> detail. <br> By Kelli Hertzler.
Southern Magnolia: Queen and Debutante detail.
By Kelli Hertzler.

The limited palette included: Scarlet Red, Cadmium Orange,Winsor Yellow Deep, Pthalo Blue, Winsor Blue (green shade) and Burnt Sienna. The substrate is Arches 140 lb. hot press paper. The mat opening is 11″ x 14″ and it will frame to 16″ x 20″.

Juried In

My art can seen in two art shows right now. I’ll give you a preview of my own pieces, but the works hanging beside mine are top notch – I recommend you visit in person to see them all.

I have four pieces in the Shenandoah Valley Watercolor Society’s Juried Art Show.  This is a large exhibit with nearly ninety pieces made primarily by members of the SVWS – and they brought their A-game! All the work be described as “watermedia” but some stretch what you might think belongs in that category. Acrylic is considered watermedia. One artist paints tissue paper and uses it for collage.  I was honored to receive a second place award yesterday for Mossy Forest III from juror Ashley Sauder Miller. Visit this show at Virginia Mennonite Retirement Center’s Park Gables Gallery until November 2, 2018.

Mossy Forest III by Kelli Hertzler. All rights reserved. 12
Mossy Forest III won second place at the SVWS Juried Art Show.

My other pieces hanging at VMRC are:

Bluet’s Corner
20″ x 28″ framed watercolor.

October at Big Meadows by Kelli Hertzler. All rights reserved. 11
October at Big Meadows
11″ x 14″ framed watercolor.

After the Storm
16″ x 20″ framed watercolor.

The Central Virginia Watercolor Guild currently has a juried show with one of my pieces included. This exhibit is at the McGuffey Art Center in Charlottesville through September 30, 2018.

Shenandoah in Gold-web
Shenandoah Gold
20″ x 28″ framed watercolor.


Plein Air at Big Meadows

A plein air sketch from Big Meadows at Shenandoah National Park shown small here because it’s a teaser. You’ll have to come to my show in December to see it well. This is a small piece – mat fits an 11 x 14 frame.

Big Meadows in Shenandoah National Park is a big draw for area artists, appearing frequently in local exhibits. I’ve made several paintings there. Last month, I made another trek to see what I could see.


This October day is a spectacular color fest in the meadow. Blue skies with a drift of clouds, brilliant sunlight carves out the undulations in the landscape. Various species of grasses and low-growing plants wearing autumn are swiped across the expanse like a ready-made painting. The challenge is to capture those brilliant yellows and reds in a credible way. They look unnatural.

Parking in the lot at the edge of the meadow, I was able to set up within 50 yards of the car. I made myself comfortable in a director’s chair with side table. A backpack full of art supplies – my medium-sized kit – holds everything I might possibly need.

It’s a bit chilly and my daughter sits wrapped in a blanket reading a book while I quickly do two color sketches of the meadow. (“Are you done yet?”)

I use Schminck masking fluid for the milkweed pods. This is a new item for me and the control freak in me loves the tip of the dispenser. I’ll be posting about my small and medium-sized supply kits soon. (Large is my basement studio.) You can find links to specific art supplies I use on the resource page.

A plein air sketch from Big Meadows at Shenandoah National Park.


Later, one of those sketches was improved in the studio and is headed for a frame (upper right). The other has some good points and may be a reference for a finished piece later, but it is not deemed frame-worthy (shown at left). I like the color and variety of textures, but the values are too similar throughout.  I learned much by the study, so I’ll count it a success anyway.

New works.

These are a few new watercolors currently hanging at the Rockfish Valley Community Center (until early September). They are all on the smallish side and priced between $90 – 125. Framed size is 14″ x 14″ for all except Sunset on Massanutten, framed at 16″ x 20″.

To purchase, contact me directly or leave a check with Sara or Cathy at RVCC.

Shenandoah River Revisited

The waters close to home have had my attention recently. I love the reflections, the movement, the way the trees hug and lean in. I took photos of this one in progress, Have a look at the slide show below to watch it develop.

Shenandoah in Gold-web


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I used a very limited palette for this watercolor. One red, one yellow, one blue and in a very few places some burnt sienna. It ends up being a complicated color scheme, though. The complementary yellow and purple might be the strongest. But there is also a triad of secondary colors (orange, green and purple) pulling the whole thing together. It’s all on a half sheet of Arches 300 lb. hot press watercolor paper. And it’s finished in time to hang in my show next week.

Last fall, I painted North River, upstream. This is from the same location, but looking downstream. That’s the North River directly in front of you. South River is coming in from the right (you can’t really see that in my painting – it’s behind the big yellow tree). What you see in the distance is the confluence of those two rivers as they become the South Fork of the Shenandoah. While the reference photos were taken on a evening in late fall, this painting was heavily influenced by a pre-dawn drive by the same spot when I saw the sun flooding the sky with color and backlight the scene before it had risen high enough to peek over the Blue Ridge. (Those distant mountains are in Shenandoah National Park.) I love what happens when I can take a memory and fuse it with a image.



Tranquil River and C.S. Lewis

Tranquil River. Watercolor by Kelli Hertzler.
Tranquil River

I just finished this small watercolor of the Shenandoah River on a glorious summer evening. I’ll confess I disturbed my husband fishing this stretch to take pictures. But I also got a wonderful shot of him standing in the river with the air around him swarming with mayflies and other flying critters that fishermen love.

This piece is 7 x 10 inches unframed. I plan to frame it in time for my August show at the Rockfish Valley Community Center.

I’m reading The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis this week. There is a scene where the spirits of two dead artists are having a conversation. Here are two excerpts that resonated with me:

“When you painted on Earth, it was because you caught glimpses of Heaven in the earthly landscape. The success of your paintings was that it enabled others to see the glimpses, too.”

(Same spirit talking, several paragraphs later…)
“Light itself was your first love: you loved paint only as a means of telling about the light.”

Yes, yes, yes!!! Was Lewis a painter, too, or did he just understand them that well?

Update: Lewis was not a painter, but he had much to say about the arts (from the perspective of a writer, but applicable to other artists.). http://humanitas.org/?p=2603

Sunlit Moss

I have been hard at work at two watercolors inspired by one location. It’s a lovely open forest with ground carpeted by ancient-looking moss. I was lucky enough to be there as the winter sun was rising and shining a spotlight onto the intensely green forest floor. I hope these help you experience that magical moment, too!

Misty Forest with a sunkissed carpet of moss.
Sunlight on Moss I

KHertzler_Sunlight on Moss II
Sunlight on Moss II